Lean and Six Sigma: Nobody’s Perfect

The most annoying part of the debate about lean versus six sigma is that those arguing often put it in terms of good versus bad, or right versus wrong. They won’t admit that their side (whichever it is) may not be perfect, and may have flaws or shortcomings.

            I make this comment after seeing a presentation prepared for the recent Institute of Industrial Engineers conference, “Which Methodology is Best for Your Project?”

Put together by Rob Bryant and Sharon Valencia of Computer Sciences Corporation, the presentation reflects what I believe is a continuing trend in process improvement: expanding support for the idea that there is no “best” approach, but only what is most appropriate for the problem you are trying to solve at a particular time. As Bryant and Valencia point out, this depends on the needs and current state of your organization.

It was refreshing to see statements in this presentation that bluntly suggested there are limits to each approach.

Specifically, Bryant and Valencia stated:

·        Lean cannot bring a process under statistical control.

·        Six Sigma does not dramatically improve process speed or reduce invested resources.

Their comments were, in fact, an argument for combining lean and six sigma. That’s another trend, or at least an expanding idea, that combination of the two approaches is what every company should strive for.

Not everyone agrees. Productivity Press recently released Using Lean for Faster Six Sigma Results by Mark Nash and Sheila Poling. In the book, the authors argue that the two improvement approaches can complement each other, but stop short of suggesting they should be combined into one approach. Synchronization, rather than combination, is the way to go, they contend.

Whatever you believe, I have never found anyone who argues with certain core principles: that any improvement strategy must have top management buy-in and support from the outset, and that mapping your existing processes is almost always a good idea.

Does your company use a variety of approaches? Has that worked well for you? Add your comments; I’d like to read them.


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Ralph Bernstein said...

9/27/2006 8:19:49 PM
Re: Lean and Six Sigma: Nobody’s Perfect
By: waltgary

I think that Six Sigma can dramatically improve process speed. Variablity increases average cycle times and WIP levels. Variability in cycle times, either random or self-induced, propagates as items move through processes. Six Sigma as well as Lean, depending on the cause of the variability, can be used to reduce that variability.

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